Free thinking : “The free exercise of reason in matters of religious belief, unrestrained by deference to authority.” – Oxford Dictionary
The popular Wikipedia definition of free thinking- “Free thought is a philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, revelation, or other dogma”, seems accurate and comprehensive. The free thought emerged as an opposition to the religious position imposed by non-secular institutions, an application of logic and skepticism and an attempt to break free of Orthodox, irrational and unscientific world views. The term first came into use in the 17th century in order to indicate people who inquired into the basis of traditional religious beliefs. In the modern context, the understanding of free thinking has expanded and does not merely signify religious dissent but is also associated with the ability to reason, debate, question and think unconventionally.
“To be free is to be capable of thinking one’s own thoughts, not the thoughts merely of the body or of society, but thoughts generated by one’s deepest, most original, most essential and spiritual self, one’s individuality.” – Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher
Free thinking entails the power and the privilege to be able to generate ideas and thoughts of your own, undiluted by prejudices of society. It represents an ability to think without bias, question without fear and speak without regret.
As is evident from many works of dystopian literature, any society or authority that discourages free thinking is often an autocratic, fundamentalist one that seeks to globalise its own ideas and cherishes anarchy and pandemonium. Free thinking is important to save oneself from the reins of dictatorship and to preserve the ideals of democracy. It is important to prevent oneself from falling prey to absurd superstitions and the building of a society on those very foundations.
To accept without question, to not refute authoritative principles is dangerous and unhealthy. It can lead to the internalization of incorrect formulae and the perception of right as wrong and wrong as right. Even for subjective concepts, it is essential that people come forth to put forward their own opinions, arguments, and views, on a more representative and open minded platform.
Free thinking is a necessary prelude to an open, progressive and accepting nation and society. Even if free thinking gives expression to seemingly absurd notions, it is essential to have a forum to be able to communicate them even if it is at the cost of being proved wrong. This would help people to think differently, expand the existing horizons of thinking and to be able to evolve innovative ways to refute or implement new ideas. A spirit of enquiry and a sense of inquisitiveness is important for any community, at an individual and collective level.
“The free thinking of one age is the common sense of the next.” – Matthew Arnold
There was a time when it was believed that the earth was flat and that the sun and other celestial bodies revolved around it. The free thinking of Copernicus and Galileo served to prove that theory wrong is now the ‘common sense’ of our age. It is because of free thinking that breakthrough discoveries and inventions occur. If it hadn’t been for the independent thinking of Newton, Edison, Tesla, Wright brothers, Stephen Hawking etc, we would still have been living in blissful ignorance of all that humanity is capable of accomplishing. It is not just scientists who have demonstrated the immense power and need of free thinking. Great artists like Mozart, Beethoven, authors like Orwell, Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Neruda etc; philosophers like Kant, Sartre, Marx; Freud have all contributed towards the holistic, cultural, scientific and spiritual development of humanity.
Free thinking enables us to generate ideas that have the power and potential to transform the world. Free thinkers also form more effective and efficient governments, teachers, scholars etc. They allow themselves to think of concepts not mentioned in textbooks, and thus, experience personal and social success.
Open mindedness, liberalism, responsiveness, and flexibility are important traits to be embodied for free thinking.
For an individual, free thinking is important for his/her intellectual and cognitive development. Any person should be encouraged to think extraordinarily and unconventionally. Free thinking is important to preserve one’s own sense of identity and utilizes one’s intellect, instead of merely accepting whatever one is told. It is important that no child swallows whatever is taught to them hook, nail and sinker; but has the ability to refute, debate, understand and then accept. It is hazardous to the mental health of a student to accept what he/she is told without question. As the philosophical proposition, “Cogito Ergo Sum”, effectively communicates, “I think, therefore I am”. Only in the act of thinking, does one truly leave an indelible imprint in the cosmos of his existence.
Through the power of free thinking, we get the confidence to fearlessly examine and explore ideas, to dispel misconceptions and superstitions which hamper human progress. It resonates with the hope for liberation, change and the possibility of freeing those trapped as a consequence of dogma and superstition.
Due to the immense benefits of free thinking, it is necessary to establish a structure of education that vigorously promotes the same.
One of the vital features of such an education system would be to actively discourage rote learning and encourage critical thinking. The purpose of education should be an acquisition of knowledge and to enhance a student’s skills rather than scoring high marks and doing well in exams. Merely memorizing facts and cementing them in one’s memory is not effective education. Imparting education and knowledge implies facilitating students to understand the larger rhetoric instead of mugging up insignificant details.
Students should be encouraged to think for themselves, come up with their own understanding of historical events, causes, impact; should be able to identify patterns and links themselves, instead of being spoon fed the information and being expected to replicate it perfectly on answer sheets and assignments. Rote learning is hazardous for a child’s intellectual development and prevents him/her from being independent minded, taking decisions and trains them to accept subjective truths as fact instead of evolving their own versions of the truth. Rote learning leads to stunted intellectual capacity and meddles with an individual’s cognitive abilities. It robs one of the capacity to think, reason, debate, and question. An education system of this type has an adverse impact on students and should be eradicated.
Happy Horizons understands what true education means and seeks to promote and implement it. The teachers here use innovative methods to drive home concepts and phenomena. Children are encouraged to think unconventionally, ask questions and seek answers. More importantly, free thinking is not only tolerated but also encouraged. Thoughts and ideas of children are not undermined but actively entertained. Its campaigns for digital literacy, learning through videos, learning with arts and crafts and Project Jigyaasa (Storytelling and book designing) are all aimed at encouraging free spirited and thought to provoke teaching and learning.
Free thinking is an entitlement available to all free humans. It should be exploited as well as it can. It should be inculcated in young minds and encouraged in Orthodox ones. It’s ideas should be embodied, transferred and endorsed. The power of free thinking should not be undermined or taken for granted. Mountains can be moved, history can be rewritten, territories can be conquered if only one thinks, and thinks freely.
– Article by Kashish Komal, Volunteer, St Stephen’s College, Delhi.
There’s a saying by Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Keeping these words in mind, our organization and it’s members thought to plan a meet-up wherein everyone can share their experiences and challenges which they face while working in different fields of education in India.
On 11th December,2016 we organised annual meet up at our Delhi HHT office which brought forth the participation from every member of Happy Horizons Trust. The event was aimed at sharing stories, experiences and challenges in working in field of education which gave chance to every member to come forward. Also, the purpose of this event was to give a better exposure to our Champions working in Bihar, who visited Delhi for an educational trip.
Meeting started with the welcome note, followed by the general introduction of everyone present at event. With the short speech about HHT and it’s activities, there were also brief success stories of HHT in Simri Bakhtiyarpur, Bihar with its different projects like LTV(Learning through Videos), Project Jagriti, Digital Literacy & Internet awareness Program etc. HHT Bihar team includes our Champions along with Project Manager Vinay Kumar and IT instructor Sonu Kumar. Champion Nigar, Jyoti, Komal and Neha were given chance one by one to share their experiences. While sharing her experiences, Nigar talked about how she use to take example of ganesh ji ne kitne laddu khae to make the procedure of addition and subtraction funny and engaging. Champions also thanked HHT for providing them a platform that helped them in self-evolution, confidence building and showing a way for better future.
Session followed by a presentation on child psychology and importance of education by volunteer Pooja Kumari, which invoked a new enthusiasm in champions to enhance their skills, followed by a brainstorming interactive session. Core team member Rakesh Ranjan, along with Rashmi and Rekha Yadav gave some suggestions to enhance the teaching skills, to provide quality education and fruitful environment to students at primary schools. Also highlighted the importance of education at primary schools as foundational level. Members from Pratham infotech shared thoughts on Digital Literacy and ways to enhance learning through videos.
At concluding session, HHT Managing Trustee Kshitiz Anand narrated about the foundation story of HHT as an organization. The journey started with an the idea of enhancing quality of education in rural areas in 2008 to finally giving it a shape of an organization in 2012 with his wife and President of HHT Vatsala Vikram. Initially, the program started in Bakhtiyarpur in Bihar, then taking lead in Bangalore widen the program. Although the aims were high but there were many criticisms from people around. But Hurdles at path made the intention even stronger to make a difference in society. He also described about the education chart of India where about 75% of population lives in villages and 25% in town. India, despite being high at population, is very low at education chart. And to overcome that situation and increase the education rate in India, we need to work on the quality of education provided at primary level. Although this dream seems hard to achieve but education is the only key for a better future and a better nation, and that’s what we at HHT through our event aim at.
– Post by Puja Raj with contributions from Ritu Singh, Pooja Patel.
It is a widely accepted fact that the education system in India needs an overhaul. We face a lot of problems with the quality of education. In the course of our work at Happy Horizons Trust, we have observed that many times the teachers are not adept or motivated in engaging with the children. Even though this is perhaps the most critical of tasks that a teacher has, the teaching quality and as a result, the learning experience falls short.
In such circumstances, there are people who often act as the bridge between the teachers and the students. Some call it tutors, some call it mentors. In our work too, we realise that to motivate the primary school students towards education, such people are required. We call them as CHAMPIONS.
For us, these champions are the one who eases out the complications of classroom, bookish world (which we all hate as a kid) and makes the process of learning fun and engaging. The children in the classes are really motivated by the presence of the champions, for they are able to relate to them as one of their own and from their own society. Through the storytelling sessions conducted by the champions, the students are able to engage in multiple fun sessions, ask more questions and also expand their thinking.
Champions, unlike others, don’t just bring the change, but be the change. They get involved in adopting and implementing everything they learn and bring it forth for benefit of others. The intent of the program is also that gradually these champions turn out to be a leader and join the schools as a teacher or are more inspired to work in the education landscape themselves.
Over the years we have observed that the champions gain in confidence by spending more time amongst the children and then later on become attractive candidates for joining in schools as teachers too. Their self-confidence is immensely high after the association with the trust.
The champions are the real changemakers working in the society and we salute them for their courage and determination.
With inputs from Pooja Raj.
Learning has always been into frame, though the medium differed with innovations and technology. To enhance the effectiveness and usability of knowledge, new and alternative ways have been adopted now and then. In early 1940s, it was print media and radio. Now, with latest technologies and explorations, Learning through Videos has been brought up as one of the prominent pedagogical method.
Among different projects of Happy Horizons Trust, Learning through Videos has been the most successful and outreaching project. But the question is, “Why are we doing it?”, “How learning through videos would help children?”, Or “How is it beneficial in education?”. Answer to this lies in the very motto of our organization, i.e., to improve the quality of education.
Visual media or video has a greater and wider impact than printed books. Sight and sound of videos stimulates our sensory motor and captures quick attention. Unlike any other method of learning, Learning through videos keeps maintaining interests of students for longer period of time, rather than getting distracted. Videos related to educational fields like science, history, geography, mathematics, etc. or films related to children, social, cultural and moral issues are been screened to simplify the complicated mechanism or ideas.
With development in technology, Learning through videos provide the flexibility to stop, start and rewind the video, so that the part which has been missed for any reason whatsoever or not properly understood, can be replayed and watched from the same section. Also, pausing the video for pointing something important or briefing some related ideas helps in clicking reasoning of students. The child needs to get engaged in and enjoy what they are studying and learning to pique their interest. Watching a film, undoubtedly, is something that every child enjoys.
In May 2015, we, at Bihar branch of Happy Horizons Trust, started the project of “Learning through Videos” in collaboration with Children’s Film Society of India, Mumbai. During our 4 month session of this project, we outreached to over 25000 students. Projecting the films that are aimed at cultural sensitization, knowing about different cultures of the world, storytelling and building in students a sense of inquisitiveness towards how to do things. To encourage more public participation, screening were done either in classrooms or at public spaces.
Anew, without any collaboration, this year we started this project of Learning through Videos in October to drive students motivation, knowledge and curiosity. With the help of laptop, projector and few volunteers, targeting 1600 students a week, we are doing this through school wise and community wise screening of the videos. Project will continue in different schools of selected districts of Bihar till December 2016. But just projecting videos or films is not what’s been aimed for. As a follow up of these screenings, we open discussions on the ideas and morals of the video to bring the student’s participation.
Truly said by Seth Gordin, “Learning is not watching a video, Learning is taking action and seeing what happens.” As video learning triggers the long-term memory, it helps in explaining complex concepts and ideas in easier terms, and improves overall learning experience. Providing a means of interactive instruction, learning through videos helps in critical thinking of children furthering the Quality of Education.
And that’s what we aspire for.
Remember the days when all students learned the same thing in the same way? These days’ educational innovations are set where you must teach to each individual learning style, and create differentiated learning plans for each student.
For times like when you just can’t make a lesson fun, follow-up the lesson with some fun activity. These activities which includes art and craft sessions, storytelling, fun games etc., allow the students to build self-confidence, and get better at presenting themselves, engage with an audience and improve on their motor skills. Art and Craft sessions are integral to our endeavor to improve the quality of education.
As our nation is full with festive seasons, we at Happy Horizons trust are trying to make every festival a fun activity based learning process. These process involves giving knowledge about the festivals through story telling workshop followed by some activities related to the festival. Apart from several sessions we conducted, we hosted two major festive events in Bihar this month.
Cap Making workshop and stories of independence as a part of Independence Day Celebration and Rakhi making workshop held at Saharsa district as a part of Raksha Bandhan festival were the two small step taken to build up, the skills and knowledge among students. These workshops help the students to build knowledge about the festivals, enhance their creative skills, leadership quality and their motor skills.
In storytelling session for Independence Day, champions explained the students how our leaders came up for the freedom of India and why 15th August is so important for us. In Cap making session students used white thin sheet for making Nehru cap which they painted in saffron, white and green color. These students wearing Nehru cap painted with the colors of Indian flag are the future of India. They need to be educated in the right direction for the betterment of society and as nation whole.
Raksha Bandhan is a bond of love between brother and sister. On this occasion we conducted a storytelling session and a workshop which were monitored by champions. They used silk thread for making Rakhi, as it is considered best in Raksha Bandhan festival traditionally. For decorating Rakhi they used small glittery jewelries. Our Champions were monitoring and helping them. Craft activities helps the students to enhance their motor skills and they all enjoyed it.
The workshops act as a training for our champions and a learning for the children as well. As a part of this endeavor to make education more interesting and fun, we at the Happy Horizons Trust are constantly looking for different ways of engagement with the children. These activities allow us to bring smiles to children and have a long-lasting impression on them, for something that they will cherish forever.
Earlier, we had written about “Making education engaging and fun,” in which we gave emphasis on children faster learning and entertaining mediums like cartoons, visuals or videos in comparison to text or theory. Later, with some more observation about children’s interests and psychology through organizing sessions of creative activities, we come up with Making Education Engaging and Fun II.
It has been quite some time that we had released the last Annual Report for the FY 2014-2015. But many say that they have not seen it. So we present it here again for those who may missed have seeing this.
The last year was special for us, as we grew our team. More people who believed in our vision joined us and got associated in different capacity. We started our office in Delhi as well. The projects in Bihar started to bear fruit, as our alumni of the programs got recruited as teachers.
Once again, we would like to thank everyone who has helped, contributed in whatever manner. It is with your wishes and blessings that we continue to move forward and attempt to improve the quality of education in the schools.
It was a landmark moment for us as the last month, we inaugurated a computer centre that will serve as the home to the Digital Literacy and Internet Awareness Course. The guest of honour was the Sub divisional Officer Shri S K Shah and Shri Mahendra Narayan Prasad. This would allow us to also launch multiple new programs and raising the digital literacy level in the area.
The beneficiaries of this centre would not only be school students, but also farmers and other citizens. Agriculture being a primary source of livelihood in the area, we feel it is important that the farmers are made aware about the recent advancements in agriculture and farming methods. Through videos and animations, through guest lectures, we hope that the citizens use this center to their benefit.
Another major beneficiary could also be teachers, who may want to find more about learning methods, new pedagogy styles and gain access to content that they can then use in their teaching.
The current setup has 5 systems and the hope is that we will be adding more systems by the end of the year.
The setup will also function as the centre for Champions training and imparting lessons on how to conduct the sessions.
This was the topic of our discussion at the Open Parent meeting last week. We have always insisted this with the school students, that they need to be neat and clean. By doing so the children develop a positive attitude towards education and a higher sense of belonging in the schools.
Even though there were very few parents who attended, we feel activities like these need to be encouraged. This is important because often the parents themselves are not educated. For them their role at the max is to just send the children to the school. They are least bothered about what happens in school or how the kids go to the schools and the level of cleanliness that it maintained.
A major challenge with trying to attain this is that the infrastructure in many of these schools are also not top class. Schools often run in incomplete buildings where dust is a major problem.
Without windows, proper doors getting students to belong to a clean environment is tough.
The fact that the hygiene is not a topic of discussion at the homes, makes it a challenge to follow up in the school as well. Most of the parent struggle with this and the challenge really remain at the systemic level.
Over the subsequent sessions, we will be sharing more insights on the interactions with the parents and what they feel about this issue.
(L-R) Nidhi, Nida, Aparna, Nigar, Project manager Vinay, Jyoti, Neha.
Here is a snapshot of our Champions selected this year, who went through a rigorous process of book readings, writing test, public speaking, group discussions, personal interview and parents interview.
As a part of the Rukmini Devi Scholarships that we offer to these Champions, and train them to be leaders, the students are given a stipend, professional training, a school to manage and engage with students on a weekly basis, computer training and internet literacy. The scholarships run for 3 years, subject to performance review at the end of every year.
We have observed that these students become good candidates to end up teaching in various schools at the primary levels. We feel that our project therefore not just trains these champions, but also prepares them for a job, and create means to support their family. In doing so, we complete the circle.
One of the key processes of our activities is ”Champions Selection” every year. Our champions are the most important factor for the functioning of the Trust. They have been assigned with four major activities-reading, writing, story-telling and art n craft.
There, are total 6 steps of selection to recruit a champion and they are as follows:
1)Reading: We tell them to read a paragraph from a book or newspaper.
2)Writing: We give them a topic, a social topic related to education of poor children or women, sanitation, environment etc, in about 600-800 words.
3)Personal interview : We ask them about their family members, hobbies, interests and ambition.
4) Extempore public speaking : All these girls are asked to speak on a topic for about 5 minutes individually one by one.
5)Group Discussion: They are asked to divide themselves in groups of four and are given a topic to discuss.
6)Visiting champions’ homes and meeting their guardians : After completion of all four steps mentioned above, we ask 5 shortlisted girls to take us to their homes to meet their parents/guardians. By taking this step, we try to find that how much the guardians are interested in our work. Are they really willing to involve their ward in our organisation or is it just the champion’ personal decision. We do this process as we think that without the guardians’permission its not possible because usually sometimes, we need to send the champions to perform the activities in some particular school all alone to check their confidence.
We have always believed that the parents of the children need to be ‘educated’ about the values of education also. This is often a missing link in the whole system, as many times we hear that the parents are least concerned about the education of the child. They believe that their duty ends at ensuring that the child goes to the schools.One of the initiatives of the Happy Horizons Trust, is to conduct open meetings and discussion sessions once a month at least, with the parents and guardians of the children. This is to happen in the villages itself. These are organised by the manager and the champions under guidance from the chief coordinator. The champions conduct this session and in return get trained themselves on social leadership and really connecting with the masses.
We recently did one such session at the Navsrijit Vidyalaya, Simri Bakhtiarpur on the 10th of July. This is a community of the Mahadalits, and the children from this area, go to the oldest school that we have been working with (since 2008). The school has around 60-70 students. This being the rainy season, we ‘educated’ the parents about the benefits of cleanliness and the need to ensure that the students also maintain cleanliness when they come to school.
In the discussions we also got to know about the different problems being faced by the families. Many have also requested for bleaching powder to keep track of the water logging and safety from the mosquitoes. We will be providing them these in the next visit to the area.
It is our endeavor that we get more parents to be involved in the education of their children. They are very important stakeholder in our whole system and due to a lack of education themselves, they have been unaware about how they can help for their children. We hope to be there to guide them on that.
In the new union budget announced yesterday, the government has announced the setting up of more IITs and IIMs. It just drives the point further that all the way from the top we have the emphasis on management and engineering education. No wonder the parents do not want their children to do anything else.
This trend needs to change, as there are so many other professions that children could opt for. This particular notion has been the driving force behind our Career Awareness Seminar.
This time we are changing the format slightly to include a panel discussion and also more questions being asked by the students. It is our sincere endeavor that the students benefit from this and are able to make better informed decisions about their careers.
We are also having the certificate distribution ceremony for the 1st batch of students of the Internet Awareness Course. It is a proud moment for us, since we truly believe in the potential of technology and the Internet. We hope that we are able to build onto this, to encourage more students to use the tools for education and the development of the society.
We have been asked this question many times. What is it that drives us. Why are we doing what we are doing? What’s in it for us? Year after year, we read up the ASER reports that looks to find the state of education across India. Some of the National findings of the last year’s report (2013) have been emphasising on the sad state of education, mainly in the primary schools, and also the fact that inspite of all the efforts, the quality of education has actually gone down instead of improving!
While, on one end while that saddens us, on the other end it inspires us as we know that we have lots of work to do. In a recent article on TIME, the writer starts with this shocking (but widely known now) revelation. More children are going to school in India, but they’re learning less. This they validate by data from the World bank. We do not find it surprising, because we face it every day. Some excerpts from the article, worth mentioning here really drives across the point of why we are doing our work.
This decline in standards, experts say, is paradoxically because of the rush to build schools and bring back children to the education fold. India managed to bring down the number of out-of-school children from 32 million in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2011 as part of a program to make elementary education universal. The landmark Right to Education Act of 2009 guarantees every child in India between the ages of 6 and 14 free education at a neighborhood school.
At the Happy Horizons Trust, our focus has primarily to look at improving the quality of education through improving the reading levels, writing levels, arithmetic skills and speaking levels. We have focused on the primary schools, as we believe that just like a building, the foundation has to be strong. If a child is able to develop good reading, writing, and speaking skills by the time they are in grade 3, we are pretty confident that the child will go on to do well in the higher classes.
One of the things we often get asked is how are we measuring the impact of our programs. It is difficult, because many times in the domain of education the impact can be actually be felt only after a certain number of years. We want to have a few short term change and impact as well.
But when a good example of Empowerment presents itself, and you know that the initiative you have been running is the cause for it; you smile from cheek to cheek and feel proud. Through our different programs, we have always emphasised on the need to apply the knowledge gained by the students.
Yesterday the results of the Class 10 board exams were announced and there was immense crowd at the computer centres. Needless to say the crowd could get impatient too soon. The anxiety of the parents and students both were understandable.
There were 6-7 students who had just completed the Digital Literacy and Internet Awareness Course, who were there with their mobiles, searching and telling all the anxious students and parents the results. Our joys were unbound at seeing this!
To us, that is empowerment.
Now that we have the blog, and functional Facebook Page, we want to ensure that we communicate regularly with our supporters, well wishers and the people who believe in our cause.
The last couple of months have been really hectic and satisfying at the same time. We will be providing regular updates on our work and project learnings through these platforms. Here’s the updates as of today June 6th, 2014.
Here is a small excerpt from the article that sums up our approach
“The unique way adopted by HHT involves empowering the students by actively involving them in story-telling sessions conducted by champions. The program functions in some of the most backward regions of Bihar and aims at introducing the children to the world outside their textbooks and building their self confidence.”
Thank you all for the continued support!
Welcome to the Happy Horizons Trust Blog. We hope to make this as a channel to share all the efforts we are doing to give our contribution towards the betterment of the society. We firmly believe in the power of technology to bring positive change.
And so, what better way to start the blog to do a post project update on the completion of the first batch of the Internet Awareness Course, being run in collaboration with the Koshi Computer Center, Simri Bakhtiarpur (Saharsa) Bihar. We are really grateful to the owner Mr Bishnu Kumar, for his full cooperation towards the execution of this course.
We started this initiative with the sole aim of getting the students empowered with the power of internet and getting digital literate. Over the duration of the course (2 months) the students were involved in understand aspects of emailing, being able to find information on the internet, fill out online forms to apply to exams, net banking, ticketing and other utilities and last but not the least doing video conferencing over Skype.
The goal is to connect them to the larger pool of information available, that allows them to bring in that extra element of passion towards education and be motivated to continue exploring things that they are passionate about. It is our long term vision that introducing them to the vast pool of knowledge and giving them the tools to access it with ease, will go a long way in they being able to make better career choices and finding employment.
As we celebrate the completion of the first batch of students, we know that this is just the beginning. The first steps have been taken, and the journey is long ahead.